If ever you've tried to have an argument about sexism and so on with a total nincompoop—and really, who hasn't? Nincompoops are everywhere!—eventually, one of two things will happen: either a) you'll get exhausted, give up, and go drink a glass of chocolate milk to wash the pain away, or b) the person you're arguing with will pull out what nincompoops consider to be the world's most unassailable, award-winning argument:
"Oh yeah?" he or she will say. "Well, maybe you didn't realize this, but... MEN AND WOMEN ARE DIFFERENT. " (This statement is usually accompanied by a hip thrust, a pointed look, and a display of finger guns, so confident is your nincompoopy adversary that he has just blown your mind with his biological insights.)
But now, the nincompoops are going down! Because according to a recent study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, the whole concept of there being vast psychological difference between the sexes is actually not true at all.
Here's the deal: scientists re-analyzed the data from 13 different studies, looking at 122 characteristics that are commonly thought to be gender-specific—things like aggression or problem-solving in men, or communication skills and nurturing personalities in women. And what they is found that psychologically speaking, it's a lot more complex. In the words of the researchers: "There are not two distinct genders, but instead there are linear gradations of variables associated with sex, such as masculinity or intimacy, all of which are continuous."
Basically, there's no such thing as a categorically male or female personality; even the traits that are more likely on average to appear in one or the other still have enormous overlap between the sexes. (Check out the neat-o graphics illustrating the difference between physical strength, which is conclusively linked to a person's sex, versus the supposedly "masculine" trait of assertiveness, which is all over the map in terms of its distribution between men and women.) So the next time some nincompoop tells you that women are hard-wired to be peace-keepers, or that men are biologically incapable of cuddling, you can tell the nincompoop that actually, you can be different in the pants but the same in the brain. Because SCIENCE.
Hip thrust! Pointed look! Finger guns!
What do you think of this new wrinkle on the gender-differences discussion?